As the appeal of plant-based diets grows, more of its impacts can be seen in aspects like nutrition and the economy.
Plant-based nutrition is not a new trend. It’s been a common diet for centuries, stretching back thousands of years to the Greeks, where evidence suggests some philosophers followed a vegetarian diet.
“When we say plant-based, we mean plant-dominant diet, where there are less animal-based products,” Deborah Murray, an Ohio University nutrition professor, said.
Some examples of these diets are vegetarianism, where the consumer cuts out meat but not all animal products. Veganism is a more restrictive diet, allowing for no animal products whatsoever.
However, recent nutritional studies and further access to plant-based products have increased the attraction of these diets.
Murray said she believes interest in plant-based diets is severely growing.
“I think that it is,” Murray said. “We find plant-based diets just lower chronic disease. Some chronic diseases are diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. Controlled studies definitely keep showing that the more plant-strong someone’s diet is, the lower the risk their heart disease is and the lower their blood pressure is. We recognize that people who eat plant-based diets are among the healthiest people in the world.”
Murray also listed a second reason for the popularity of these diets: people are realizing the planetary impacts of reducing animal product consumption.
“We are recognizing climate change; we recognize our finite water sources,” Murray said. “We recognize that animals produce more carbon dioxide compared to plants. The carbon footprint is much, much lighter for plants compared to a heavy animal diet.”
Julia Paxton, an economics professor at OU, agrees with Murray on the importance of plant-based diets for the earth.
“People who choose a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle are helping the world utilize its resources efficiently,” Paxton said in an email. “By making the choice to eat a plant-based diet, vegetarians and vegans are all allowing for an efficient use of agricultural land. We live in a world where agriculture is expanding onto marginal land, destroying the natural habitat that is needed for a healthy planet. As we move forward, utilizing land efficiently will be a critical part of protecting the world’s natural resources.”
She also said plant-based diets would impact the economy through reducing the demand for animal products. Despite less demand, the price for animal products would actually increase due to other factors, such as increases in world population and increasing global incomes.
The growing interest in plant-based diets has also impacted local business in Athens. Sol Island Bar and Grill, 700 E. State St., has many plant-based options as well as traditional food with animal products.
“Interest in vegan and vegetarian items have grown to where we have a separate menu for them,” Ashley Wilson, an employee who has been vegan for four years, said. “Sol has many breakfast options, we also have lots of appetizers we can do as well, we even have vegan cheese right now which is a bit harder to come by.”
Wilson also stated that she felt having multiple vegetarian and vegan options made Sol more attractive to customers. Customers often have many questions and want to order off the vegan menu.
Savannah Dawson, a vegan and freshman at OU, has expressed her enjoyment of Athens’ many plant-based options.
“One of the reasons I picked OU was the amount of vegan options the college provided and the fact that almost every restaurant up town has at least one option for me,” Dawson said in a message. “It’s so great.”
Dawson said she had been a vegan for two and a half years. She gave up animal products due to the connection she felt with animals as a competitive horseback rider. She even considers it the best decision she’s ever made.
“Emotionally, I feel so much better because I don’t have the weight of that on my conscience anymore,” Dawson said. “Physically, I have less acne and overall more energy. I don’t get as tired easily, and I always feel full after I eat.”
Murray, Paxton, Wilson and Dawson all agree that there are a lot of quality benefits to veganism and vegetarianism, be it health-related or even business-related. They hope people consider looking into a plant-based diet.
“It’s our health, and the health of mother nature,” Murray said. “(Veganism and Vegetarianism) could be a win-win for everybody.”